Am I the only one left underwhelmed (and if I am being brutally honest, thoroughly bored) by Koode, Anjali Menon’s latest?
Because no review I’d read before walking into the theatre prepared me for the slow, mind-numbingly predictable fare that was Koode.
Koode had me excited long before it was released. It had one of my favourite writers (Anjali Menon, of course), some of my favourite actors (Parvathi and Nazriya), a beautiful setting, and the promise of an interesting plot: the relationship between a brother and sister. Yet three hours later, I came out of the theatre sadder and wiser. It doesn’t matter how good the ingredients are or how foolproof the recipe; the dish can still go horribly wrong.
We watched Koode as a group and I must admit that only two of us were utterly disappointed by it. The others were in the “Hmm, not bad” zone. However, we, who discuss every movie we watch down to the last detail long after getting back home, did not speak a word about Koode. We came out unmoved, unchanged, as if we had never watched it. As if it had been written with a finger on water. Slow, unclear, and dissolving into nothingness.
Koode is a movie about relationships, familial responsibilities, and the journey to self-discovery. As the director, Anjali Menon’s biggest win is how she was able to bring out nuances of each of the characters with great economy of style: a flash of expression on someone’s face, an arrested gesture, a clever camera angle, all of it become effective storytelling tools in her hands. I wish she had been able to exercise the same tautness and control in the writing itself.
Because that, to me, is where Koode really fails. The writing is loose, almost lazy in parts.
A great many of Nazriya’s lines are irritatingly preachy, the kind of thing Anjali Menon had steered clear of so assiduously in her previous ventures, and which made them such fine creations. To make things worse, Nazriya’s delivery and expressions were over-the-top in quite a few places and her character sounded more like an overexcited tween than the twenty-year-old she was portraying.
The movie starts off slow and I mean really slow: a good forty minutes is spent in just introducing the main characters and their relationships. This time frame wouldn’t have mattered if what we were watching had been interesting. But all we get is a string of visuals of the (admittedly stunning) Ooty landscape and close-ups of people and places, while a forgettable score drones on in the background.
At one point, Nazriya’s character says “ഞാനും കൂടെ സംസാരിച്ചില്ലെങ്കിൽ ഇത് പിന്നെ ആര്ട്ട് സിനിമ ആയിപ്പോകും.” There was a collective chuckle in the theatre and I thought to myself, സത്യം!
The story never really picks up pace but meanders on like a tourist walking aimlessly through the streets of a new city. You keep waiting for a twist, a reckoning, a moment of truth, but sadly, nothing happens. By the second half, even my ten-year-old niece could predict each and every turn the story would take. Some clever fellows in the rows behind us even started calling out the dialogues before the characters could spout them. And they got the gist of the lines right every single time!
Koode has neither the charm and humour of Bangalore Days nor the magical realism of Ustaad Hotel.
The dialogues are not memorable, let alone quote-worthy. And it doesn’t have characters you want to care about: they are all two-dimensional, like the card soldiers of Alice In Wonderland.
Overall, Koode is disappointing fare and I hope Anjali Menon’s next venture is better than this.
Once upon a time, we were foolish too. Like paying good money to go watch Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani. Or buying toothpaste with salt in it. Or thinking ‘Hey, this Arvind Kejriwal fellow seems to be making sense!’
Older and wiser today, we’ve tried to make prudent life choices, one of them being never to watch more than one Bollywood movie in a year, and then too, only something that is as unBollywood-like as possible. So one year it was Kahani. Another year it was Special 26; then Lunchbox and Piku. We even gave 2 States and English Vinglish the benefit of doubt. The years passed by in this languorous way; Sallu bhai kept making movies in between, but those didn’t touch our lives, except for the occasional grimace we gave as we caught a glimpse of them while channel surfing.
“This is good,” we congratulated each other, “We are watching quality movies, not trash.” We’d already earmarked Kahani 2 for this year and there was no reason to believe our plans would change.
But we had reckoned without the crafty marketing team at Bookmyshow. They appealed to the basest, most primal instinct of us Indians – the love for a good deal. They wooed us with cashbacks and card offers, and convinced us that we could watch one more movie practically for free. The catch? It would have to be before December 1st.
How to use this excellent opportunity? (I mean, we were practically making money on it) We scrolled feverishly through the listings – but we’d already watched everything we wanted to watch.
And that’s how we found ourselves in a cold, dark theatre last night, watching Dear Zindagi.
I’ve clearly woken up this morning with a hangover. Let me try and get it out of my system by randomly putting down everything I feel about the movie. Screw structure and subheadings.
I’ve never been a fan of SRK (like ever, god promise). And I would have thought by this time all the botox would have frozen his facial muscles so that whatever little emoting he used to do would also have become a thing of the past. I went in fully expecting SRK to overact and ham up the show – but he didn’t. In fact, he acted his age, looked perfectly comfortable in the skin of Jug and even managed to not take himself too seriously. It was unsettling, to say the least. Now I can’t hate him with the same heartfelt intensity of old. Gah.
To give ourselves the courage to book tickets to Dear Zindagi, we had to tell each other repeatedly that Alia Bhat is a good actress and Gauri Shinde is a good director. After watching the movie, we’ve changed our stance. Alia Bhat is certainly an excellent actress but Gauri Shinde has a long, long way to go.
Every person is born with the capacity to digest a certain quantum of pontification/gyaan. This has to be used judiciously so that it lasts you through your life. So if you’ve already watched a lot of Aamir Khan movies, from TZP to PK, I’d say you should skip this one. Dr.Jehangir Khan does have one or two cool stories and even gives Kaira sensible advice, but by the last thirty minutes of the movie, you’re impatiently looking at your watch and wishing you had a remote so that you could skip ahead.
Old Bollywood habits die hard and no director, however nobly motivated, is really free of these shackles. So they have to drum things into you and shout in your ear, “Get it? Get it? This is what I mean!” That’s why the movie ends with a new, free Kaira who has
made her short film, the ‘longest project of the century’
garnered the admiration and goodwill of all her ex-boyfriends and the family who used to judge and scorn her
met a new potential soulmate
made peace with her parents
accepted herself for who she is
started creating new memories for herself by playing kabaddi with the samunder.
Every single fucking thread is closed so that nobody in the audience has anything to think about or imagine as they drive back home.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that DZ is not a movie that would make you want to stab yourself (Or the makers. Or bookmyshow) in the throat. But it could have been less self-indulgent, shorter by at least 30 minutes, and definitely, definitely gotten Kunal Kapoor to take off his shirt.
This is a list I have been struggling to put together for months now, constantly adding and removing names, wondering whether the actress did justice to the role, whether the role gave the actress enough scope, and whether anyone looking at this list would call it a curation of cliched choices.
That is exactly what I do not want this list to be, wich is why I have tried really hard to omit the obvious names. Hence, Ganga from Manichitrathazhu, Maya Vinodini from Ente Suryaputhrikku, Ammukutty from Aalkoottathil thaniye, and Kuttyedathi are missing even though they certainly deserve to belong. (Here‘s another list I found that has some of the most popular names).
Played by the indomitable Urvashi, this is one of my all-time favourite characters. A little manipulative, a little naive, greedy for life’s little luxuries, yet unthinking of the price she would have to pay for it all… Haven’t we all encountered a Kanchana, or at least a version of her, somewhere in life?
To me, the song Mayaponmane perfectly brings out her delightful, thoughtfully sketched character.
Pooja [Om Shanti Oshana]
Writers: Midhun Manuel Thomas & Jude Anthany Joseph
The bubbly, yet vulnerable Pooja is a character that must surely have been written with Nazriya in mind, and indeed, she pulls off this role with ease and elan.
What I love most about Pooja is the fact that she has spunk. She decides what she wants and goes all out to get it. She has opinions and no qualms about voicing them. She is unpretentious and funny. Moreover, she is not slotted into a category or oversexed into a tomboy or worse, a girly girl.
Her exchanges with her dad, played by Renji Panicker who seems to have discovered the actor in him fairly late in life, are hilarious. This song tells you quite a lot about her.
Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a character written by Paritosh Uttam in his novel Dreams in Prussian Blue
This name came to me fairly late during the making of this list and I was surprised myself that it did. But here it is, and after much deliberation, I believe Gayatri deserves to be here.
This movie makes you wonder: what would you do for love? Not the heroics and histrionics that accompany the battle to win social acceptance for a relationship, but the rags of love that you need to pull together to face each day after you embark on such a relationship.
Gayatri is a a girl who walks out of her ordinary life allured by the vivid, colourful possibilities of a life with her artist lover Micheal. But she has no idea what is about to hit her and eventually succumbs to the relentless demands of everyday existence. Ironically, the very thing that she tried to escape from. .
Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay
Kalpana’s is an elusive character – you can never put a finger on what she is really thinking. While she is in a relationship with Shantanu, when she fights her family for his acceptance, when she is in the car with Sanjay and they spiral towards that accident, when she inexplicably changes her mind about Shantanu afterwards…all that time and you keep wondering who Kalpana really is and whether she is capable of truly loving anyone.
The movie reminds me of the mythological story of Ganga and Shantanu. Ganga torments Shantanu with her beauty and her promises and her utter refusal to answer any questions about herself or her actions. She is a celestial, a woman of mystery, who leaves him bewitched and bewildered until the very end.
Samvrutha Sunil is a truly beautiful and talented woman who got very few good roles: I am glad that she got this one before she took a break.
Sethulakshmi [5 Sundarikal]
Writers: Shyam, Pushkar and Muneer Ali, based on a story by M. Mukundan
This short film is the most haunting one I’ve ever seen, so much so that I feel quite unable to watch it again, afraid of the emotions that it will let loose. All credit goes to little Anikha who brought Sethulakshmi alive on screen. For a child of her age to even grasp the turmoil that the character is going through is a big deal. But Anikha takes the performance to another level with her micro-expressions, like the quivering of a lip or the hunted look in her eyes.
This uber-talented artist transformed what could have been a mundane, crudely tragic story into something stunning that leaves you speechless, throat choked up, hand springing to your mouth. I am sure we can look forward to many great things from Baby Anikha.
Meera in Mannar Mathayi Speaking
I am pretty sure this is one name nobody would have expected to find here. Not surprising, given that the Meera I am talking about is a role played by Geetha Vijayan and lasts barely a few minutes. (In case you’re confused, Vani Viswanath’s character was called Diana and she is merely pretending to be Meera). After her debut in In Harihar Nagar, Geetha Vijayan has sadly been relegated to vampish roles. This is one of the few that she has performed brilliantly and which went unnoticed.
‘Timid rabbit’ is a phrase that is bandied about by romance novelists, but in this one scene, she brings to life a woman paralyzed with fear and with the drugs she has been injected with, staring a horrendous death in the face, yet unable to take one step to save her life. The piteous expression on her face as she takes doddering steps towards the door while Diana screams at her to move, move, to escape, will never fade from my mind.
Watch from 1:40:57 to 1:42:20 here.
Writer: MT Vasudevan Nair
I had to Google to find out who the creator of Ammini was and am certainly not surprised that it is MT. Ammini is a dream child, the girl the teenage version of myself most resembled, the ‘vattu pennu’ that my father was afraid I would become. She wanders through the forest, wide-eyed, a thousand stories and fantasies flitting about in her mind, choosing her own company over others’ and eventually succumbing to the allure of an adventure, a mystery. She is a romantic, admiring without understanding, rebellious, yet in the end, defeated, left bereft.
Search for ‘Innale mayangumbol’ on Google, and this is the first result that comes up. The song from the movie Anueshichu Kandethiyilla in the golden voice of Yesudas. It has 238,790 views as of today and 462 Likes. Certainly well-deserved, and I would have given it a thumbs up too if I hadn’t come across this by accident: the original song sung by the music director himself, MS Baburaj.
This little-known video has a grand total of 484 views and 3 Likes. But it has been haunting me since the day I heard it first.
The story of MS Baburaj has always fascinated me. His rise from an orphan singer in trains to a musical stalwart, his colourful personality, the music that flowed down the streets of Kozhikode, the days as a wedding singer to eke out a living, the friend circles that he chaired initially and which eventually spurned him…for anyone interested, you can piece together his story from here and here.
I have loved his songs for as long as I can remember, but hearing him in his own voice left me speechless. His voice is not golden or flawless. It is crude and unfettered. It is like honey with grains of sand in it. There is sweetness and gentleness, but there’s also a roughness that leaves scratches on your heart.
In this song, when he sings “Omane, neeyente arikil vannu…“, when he says omane, I become his beloved. I hear the man behind the words in the way he pronounces certain words, in the way he lets the naked emotion show as he sings… MS Baburaj has put his soul into every song he’s ever composed – I think that is what is making the difference. When he sings, you hear his pain and his love and his want.
Each time I listen to his voice, I am left drenched and shaken. Compared to this, the sheer perfection of Yesudas’ voice is too much for me.
Just this once, I tell myself, I want something less than perfect.
Let me begin by saying (as I have many times before on my blog, to friends and family, and to my husband, much to his annoyance) that I am a huge fan of yours. I think you are a versatile, immensely talented actor, and insanely handsome to boot. My admiration for you has only grown from 1983 to Bangalore Days to Premam.
I write this letter in the middle of the night, less than an hour after I got back from watching Action Hero Biju. In bringing SI Biju Paulose to life, I think you have done a terrific job, no surprises there. But despite some very fine acting, the interesting insights into police procedure, the many smiles and sniggers, and the glimpses into the lives of folks from different walks of life, I walked out of the movie theater feeling an overwhelming sense of dread.
Dread that what I saw today would be the beginning of the end. That we will get perhaps 2 or 3 more good movies from you, and then you will go the route that some of our other superstars have gone. My fear is compounded by the fact that AHB is your maiden production. Picture this: the first movie that you, who made your name in the industry through honest, down-to-earth portrayals of ordinary characters, ever produced has you as the titular hero, many action sequences, longish monologues on value-based living, a bimbo for a heroine, and a totally unnecessary romantic song forced into the script!
I agree, the name of the movie should have warned me, but despite starting out with a realistic portrayal and the claim at the end that Biju Paulose is no superhuman, that is exactly what he ended up as. Especially in that last action sequence: performing impossible stunts, sending the bad guys flying, delivering dramatic monologues on the greatness of the men in khakhi (no offence intended to our police force)… I mean, what was all that about?
One of the many welcome changes in contemporary Malayalam movies is the increased importance given to female characters. From Divya and Sarah in Bangalore Days, Pooja in OSO, Susheela in 1983 to Malar in Premam, female characters these days have character. Which is why the wide-eyed heroine in AHB who has nothing more to do than look coy and clingy is deeply disturbing. If the character of Benitta Dominic wasn’t important to the movie, why have her at all? Why not restrict her to a voice on the phone, for instance?
The reason I am nitpicking is that this is how it all started back in the 2000s. When Mohanlal did Aaram Thampuran and Narasimham, we liked them because while they were dramatic, they fell into the bucket of ‘wholesome’ entertainers. But when these were followed by a list of formula movies the next half-decade-Praja, Ustad, Thandavam, Chaturangam, Natturajavu, Alibhai-what Malayalam moviegoers everywhere lost was more than just time and money.
The thing is, Nivin, we have great expectations from you. You are the next superstar. Even without any of the associated trappings. Perhaps, because you’ve steered clear of these so far.
So, here’s hoping fervently that AHB is not going to be the first in a series of formula movies aimed at piggybacking on its success.
It was a shock to hear about Kalpana’s untimely demise yesterday. I was struck by the thought that we have lost yet another artist from the golden age of Malayalam cinema that our generation grew up watching.
First went Philomina (1997). Then Sukumari (2013). And now, Kalpana. With her passing, an era of effortless female comedy has come to an end.
Surprisingly, when I tried to think of my favourite Kalpana movies, I had to wrack my brains. But once I recalled the first few, the others came tumbling after, and try as I might, I could not think of another comedienne who who could have pulled off these roles with such ease and elan. Here’s my list.
Sathi Leelavathi (1995)
As the titular heroine in this Tamil comedy, Kalpana put up a brilliant show as the naive, loving, well meaning wife of Arun (Ramesh Arvind), who finds out to her horror that her husband has a mistress whom he is unwilling to give up. Initially devastated, Leela pulls the rags of courage around her and with the help of her husband’s old friend Dr.Sakthivel Gounder (Kamal Hasan), fights to win her husband back.
Some of my favourite scenes from the movie include fun ones like Leela getting How To Hold On To Your Man advice from the mami next door and more serious ones like the scene in which she confronts Arun about his affair. Watch the movie here
2. Bangalore Days (2014)
After many years, Kalpana makes a terrific comeback as Shantha, the mother of Kuttan in Bangalore Days. How she sees her husband’s departure as a means to escape from a life of drudgery and how she manages to get away step by step is portrayed beautifully. My favourite dialogue from this movie is where she pulls a harassed face from the midst of her card playing cronies at the tired and hungry Kuttan and says”Ente mone, innu ividunnu onnu anangan polum pattiyittilla… nee oru pisaa (pizza) order cheyyu, avaru pettennu kondu tharumallo!”
3. Pidakkozhi Koovunna Noottandu (1994)
Ponnamma, the feisty, man hating post office employee, is an evergreen character. Subjected to neglect as a child by her parents because she was a girl, Ponnamma grows up hating all men. This movie, a laugh riot, but with a solid story, is one of my favourites, and some of the best scenes here belong to Kalpana and Jagathy. Watch the movie here:
4. Kudumbakodathi (1996)
“Nenu Guntur Parvathi…”
So starts the fiery Telugu monologue of Kalpana, who appears in a bold, chest thumping, ball busting mother-in-law avatar in this movie. Again, a role that I can imagine nobody except Sukumari managing to pull off.
5. CID Unnikrishnan, BA, BEd (1994)
Another excellent pairing with Jagathy’s Oommen Koshy, Clara the cook with her beehive hair and nose-in-the-air affectations is another quirky, memorable character.
5. Kouthuka Varthakal (1990)
Kamalu is one of Kalpana’s more serious roles. An innocent young woman married to a much older man, she is wooed and duped by a trickster played by Mukesh. Though the rest of the movie has a happy ending, this particular subplot does not. It is Kalpana’s wide-eyed, trusting performance as Kamalu that makes you feel for the character.
6. Alibabayum Ararakallanmarum (1998)
It’s impossible to forget the scene where Jagathy, Kalpana and their son pretend to be impoverished Bengali farmers to gain access to houses they can rob later. Their accent, the way they sing Vaishnava Janatho, and their expression when the householder asks them to shut up, are just hilarious! Watch the scene here:
Three-quarters of the year 2015 was pretty good in that many of the Malayalam movies that came out did not disappoint and I had many opportunities to wax eloquent about the superior quality and tastes of the Malayalam film industry compared to many others in India. But in the past few months, I’ve had to swallow my words.
Many of the movies I watched with great expectations turned out to be duds. Some were mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly bad. Others were dull, flat, like a puffed-up kachori that you bite into, and your teeth snaps in air, because there’s nothing inside. It’s empty.
Here are the movies I consider The Worst of 2015, not including the lot that sank without a trace.
This was our Diwali pick, one that our entire extended family went to watch with great hopes. To be fair, only I, SR, and a cousin were so badly disappointed by it. Here’s what I learned after watching Anarkali:
(1) Biju Menon, delightful and talented as he is, cannot rescue every crappy movie. Just the way plastering Sachin Tendulkar’s face on the tube could not save Sach toothpaste.
(2) There is apparently a severe shortage of actresses in Malayalam cinema. Which is why the makers of this movie had to go and find a wooden-faced doll to play the heroine. You will understand my sentiment when I say that Katrina Kaif can emote better than Priyal Gor has in this movie. It didn’t help that all her dialogues were stilted, melodramatic, and inspired by various Hindi soap operas.
(3) There is no limit to the quantum of drama you can pack into a two-hour movie, all to keep it going in the absence of an actual story.
Why You Should Watch Anarkali
(1) If you want to visit Lakshadweep but don’t have the money or the leave balance to go, watch this instead. The island is shown in all its splendor, and you get a glimpse of everyday life there.
First of all, I don’t understand why this movie is called Madhuranaranga. SR says it’s because it is ‘bittersweet’. Funny, I seem to have slept through all the sweet parts.
What I loved about it is the fact that I didn’t have to spend a penny on it. I watched Madhuranaranga when it was aired last weekend, as a Christmas special. All I gave up was 3 hours of my life.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: Jeevan (Kunchako) and Salim (Biju Menon) are taxi drivers and roommates in Sharjah. A girl runs into Kunchako’s car one day. She is a Srilankan refugee who has been brought to Sharjah illegally and sold to a brothel from where she escapes after injuring a molester. Out of sympathy, Jeevan offers her shelter.
Love happens. Sex happens. One baby happens. All without the government knowing. Then an accident happens. Arrests happen. Suddenly, Jeevan is lying somewhere in Kerala with one side of his body paralyzed. Thamara (the girl) is deported to Sri Lanka. The child is in an orphanage in Sharjah and up for adoption by a wealthy UK-based couple. I forget what happened to everyone else.
The rest of the movie is about how Jeevan and friends go to Sri Lanka to search for Thamara and bring her back so that they can reclaim their child. A lot of wasted film and a miraculous coincidence later (praise the lord!), they are all reunited.
When I told the story to my brother (who hadn’t watched this movie, the lucky dog!), he had just one question: why didn’t Thamara, after she reached Sri Lanka, just ring up Jeevan or his friends and give them her address?
She must have had her own dark, shadowy reasons.
The mystery remains.
3. Salt Mango Tree
This wasn’t as bad as some of the others, because the acting was pretty good and there were a few good laughs. The story goes this way.
There’s this couple (Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya) with an adorable four-year-old son, for whom they are trying to secure an admission in a top school in the city. But the system seems to test the parents’ socioeconomic status and general knowledge more than the IQ or EQ of the child. Preoccupied with getting him into one of these ‘gateways to a better future’, Biju Menon and Lakshmi Priya don’t let him enjoy his childhood or spend quality time with his grandparents.
After multiple failed attempts, they enroll themselves in a coaching program conducted by Suhasini, where they get a lot of random, disconnected pieces of advice. (I went out during the interval to buy popcorn and got back to my seat only after the movie had resumed. For five minutes, I thought they were airing a video course in Personality Development as a filler)
The couple eventually attend an interview in which the child is asked a question he wasn’t coached for. As his parents freeze, he launches into a story his grandfather had taught him. But later, while everyone else on the list gets admit letters, he doesn’t.
An angry and frustrated Lakshmi Priya berates the child and drags him with his shoes on the wrong feet to Suhasini’s office (possibly to demand a refund of the course money) While she pours out her frustration, it is revealed that Suhasini had made the same mistake of pushing her own son beyond his limits, and he had attempted suicide. Seeing the bedridden teenager, Lakshmi Priya has a change of heart and runs to hug her son.
As an icing on the cake, Biju Menon comes rushing in with the news that their son is a scholarship student, whose admission news was conveyed directly by the Principal over the phone (which explains why he didn’t get the letter like everyone else)
What angers me is that the director and the script writer took a story with so much promise and so many characters with possibilities, and did… nothing with them. Instead of a happy ending, they could have had the child not get the admission, but his parents coming to terms with it anyway. Instead of showing Suhasini with a paralyzed son, they could have focused on how the grandparents’ lessons and stories helped the child more than the tuition classes and mugging sessions they had forced on him. There were so many possibilities, none utilized. That is disappointing.
On an aside, I’ve realized as I write this article that I am a sucker for Biju Menon movies. I see that guy’s name on the list of actors, and I am convinced that the movie has to be good. Despite a string of disappointments, I don’t stop. Maybe it’s just his mustache and the deep voice. Or the crinkly, smiley eyes. Yeah, probably that.
4. Oru Vadakkan Selfie
I must have lived with my head in a hole in the ground, because until I watched it, I thought Oru Vadakkan Selfie starred Vineeth Srinivasan and Namitha Pramod. Well, it doesn’t.
The first half of this movie has a lot of laughs. Nivin Pauly, Aju Varghese, Vineeth Srinivasan and the rest of the cast enact their roles to perfection. And right up to the interval, you are excited to know what happens next. But then you spend the next 1.5 hours in a state of bewilderment.
“Where the fuck is this going?” is the thought foremost in your mind. And this thought never leaves you, even after the movie ends.
What starts out as an extremely interesting slice-of-life movie about a good-for-nothing fellow in a village, slowly turns into a road trip-cum-mystery-cum-drama-cum-I-don’t-know-what-else movie. At some point, it even turns into a discourse on cyber safety.
If they air it on TV, should you watch it? Sure, sit around for the first half. You’ll know when to get up and walk away.